DS Smith research reveals costly impacts of “air-commerce” on environment and brand appeal
11 Jul 2022 --- Oversized packaging is exacerbating climate change and damaging brand perception, according to new research from DS Smith. The e-commerce packaging leader found that excess packaging generates 86,071 metric tons of unnecessary CO2 emissions annually, equivalent to nearly 5 million online delivery journeys.
The overpackaging trend also presents an economic burden, especially amid rising raw material prices. In the UK, 169,291 metric tons of extra cardboard are wasted yearly at the cost of £39.4 million (US$47.1 millon). Meanwhile, 480 million m2 of plastic tape and 80 million m3 of filler are wasted annually.
The research also reveals that 85 million m3 of air is being shipped to UK homes annually due to unnecessary packaging – equivalent to more than 34,000 Olympic swimming pools.
“Consumers want less packaging. Raw materials are more expensive than ever, and the benefits for the environment are significant, so now is the time to design the air out of online shopping,” says Stefano Rossi, DS Smith Packaging CEO.
Bad for business
DS Smith warned that in addition to negative environmental impacts, oversized boxes also damage brand perception. When faced with a box with too much packaging, 43% of consumers say it makes them feel frustrated with the retail brand.
Setting out their expectations, consumers say they would like to receive packaging made from alternative renewable sources (41%), packaging that tightly fits oddly shaped items (32%) and packaging that is waterproof (30%) in the future.
Some 167 million packages are sent each month through online shopping. The research found that while four-fifths (80%) of businesses that sell goods online admit to often using packaging that is not closely sized to the product, more than half are focused on its recyclability (55%) and over a third on the reusability (35%).
“Wasted materials are not an accident; waste happens because of choices made at the design stage. The role of design in protecting our planet just can’t be overestimated – we need to adopt a circular approach, designing out waste to keep materials in use for as long as possible, explains Rossi.
Moreover, DS Smith warned that faulty and insufficient packaging designs were expected to result in over €1.3 billion (US$1.31 billion) worth of damage during Black Friday sales last year.
Support for circularity
Rising material prices come at a time when the UK household recycling rate has decreased from 46.0% in 2019 to 44.4% in 2020, according to the government’s latest statistics on waste. This decrease has prompted DS Smith to call for source segregation, through which household waste such as paper, glass and plastic are collected separately to drive up recycling levels.
DS Smith has led several circular design projects in recent times. For example, it recently created a bag-in-box solution for Well Water, achieving a 60% reduction in truck transportation and associated carbon emissions.
The company also used its Circular Design Metrics for the first time to design and manufacture fiber-based packaging for a limited edition beer collection brewed with surplus bread.
“Through our partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, we have already trained 700 DS Smith designers to use circular design principles, who are working on more than 2,000 live ‘circular’ projects. We hope that circular principles will become the norm for all design, everywhere, and that ‘air-commerce’ quickly becomes a thing of the past.”
PackagingInsights explored DS Smith’s “Sweet Spot” e-commerce packaging design methodology with Gavin Mounce, e-commerce design manager, and Alan Potts, design and innovations director.
By Joshua Poole
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